There are those who advocate that we abandon our modern way of life and return to our initial state as hunters and gatherers and forsake all the technological advances that we have made in order to partake in a simpler and more basic lifestyle. This idea might sound rather appealing, given our current circumstances, but it would be wise to consider the ramifications of such a decision.
A hunter-gatherer society could only feed an absolute maximum of about 100 million people, thereby necessitating a reduction of over 7 billion people out of a total population of about 7.4 billion. This would require a mass volunteer suicide agreement from almost all of the current population. An obvious obstacle would be deciding who would be delegated to live and die. As populations continued to grow, periodic die-offs would be needed to ensure a no-growth-rate, therefore, we would have the same problem of having to choose who lives and dies as an ongoing strategy. I think we could foresee major problems with this concept and serious moral implications arising as well.
Technology in and of itself is not wrong, evil or any other negative stereotype we have rendered upon it; it is amoral. The way we use technology determines its human value and justification. Technology creates a more productive, secure and pleasurable lifestyle and allows humans to participate in other important endeavors besides just subsistence activities. Progress has been able to address many of society’s challenges such as finding ways to eliminate or reduce hunger, disease, poverty and pollution, to anticipate future problems and to improve communication and connectedness between individuals and governing bodies on a global level. It has also increased the wealth and diversity of information and knowledge needed to promote societies’ continued advancement and sustainability.
Capitalism, that places profitability above all other values, is a philosophy that must be re-evaluated and converted into a technology and economic system that is based on cooperation and mutual benefit as opposed to competition and winning at the expense of another. This undoubtedly will necessitate a shift towards socialism or some other kind of economic system that is not based primarily on capital gain but on the collective needs of the human race.
If mismanagement of our planet eventually resulted in a catastrophic collapse and much of the population died, the dysfunctional values that caused the breakdown would likely re-emerge later on and the same cycle would repeat itself. Therefore, the way to a transformed relationship with nature is to transform our relationship with ourselves and with each other. Then we could live with or without technology and still maintain a harmonious relationship with the biosphere.
The Primitivist Argument for the Need to Return to the Hunter-Gatherer Lifestyle
One of the most convincing arguments for returning to a simple state of existence with very limited technology is the notion of a resource crisis that would result in the extinction of civilization. The primary resource of concern would be oil given that almost everything we produce is based on it and 40% of the world’s energy is derived from oil derivatives. The theory states that at a certain time in the future, oil reserves will be depleted, technology will come to a halt and millions of people will begin to die, which will result in a return to our initial primitive state anyway so we might as well prepare for this inevitable outcome and embrace it now. If we analyze this theory critically, we will discover that it is not rigorously thought out, and other important factors are also relevant. Let’s delve into this in some detail.
When oil does become scarce, technologies will gear up, however reluctantly, to make profits from developing alternative energies as well as continuing to find ways to extract fossil fuels by using more destructive methods that will inevitably be harmful to the environment. In other words, profits will motivate technology to find a way to succeed no matter what, despite the detrimental effects on humanity. As resources become more limited, the rich and powerful will hoard resources to ensure their survival and allow prices to rise, thus creating more poverty in the world. The poor will likely suffer the brunt of capitalisms’ self-interests and be subjected to mass die-offs, extreme poverty, hunger and starvation. Capitalism does not care about the misery that can ensue when it is used greedily and it also has a tendency to promote consumerism as an end in itself as opposed to creating what people really need.
Technology and capitalism have always been able to survive destructive crisis. During World War II, many of Europe’s major cities were destroyed and their industries devastated. Millions of European workers died in the war, but capitalism thrived due to the increase in starvation that allowed wages to be reduced so profits could be enhanced.
Destruction can also serve to regenerate capitalism and boost profits. Consider the war in Iraq in which the destruction of the Iraqi infrastructure had become a nightmare for the native people but greatly benefited certain US companies that had opened facilities there. The presence of our large businesses in the Middle East put us in reach of much needed oil reserves and gave us additional political clout and influence in Middle Eastern affairs.
Technology is the primary strategy we have developed to fulfill the needs of society. Even if we turned the clock back, it would soon start ticking again. Our current challenge is to go beyond maintaining everyone’s standard of living to raising everyone’s standard of living in a way that is reasonably sustainable. Continued development of technology aimed at the benefit of all humanity appears to be the only way we can survive and advance as an intelligent evolving species.
It is interesting to note that some anarchists prefer to focus on primitivism as a primary or sole strategy instead of applying critical thinking about other viable solutions to our current predicament. Others feel humans are unsustainable and must vacate the Earth in order for it to heal. Both strategies are rift with social and ethical dilemmas that seem unlikely to succeed.
Capitalism in its present form is aimed at production and consumption with little regard for ecological impact on the environment. It may only move toward sustainable practices if forced to by a lack of natural resources or by other natural or human factors that might enter the equation. Ultimately, a continuation of our present system without extensive reform will result in the demise of society and the biosphere.
Nevertheless, we cannot look back in time at our ancient ancestors and attempt a return to their lifestyles that worked with such a small population and few damaging technologies. We must embrace the issues that now confront us by designing a new technology, economy and governing body that is eco-friendly, reverses past pollution problems and creates an enlightened lifestyle that serves the needs of society and the planet.
“Primitivism, anarcho-primitivism and anti-civilisationism – criticism.” Libcom.org, posted by libcom 12 October 2006, libcom.org/thought/anarcho-primitivism-anti-civilisation-criticism. Accessed 1 June 2020.